Product: AKSA Amplifier Modules
Manufacturer: Printed Electronics - Australia
Price: $147 USD including shipping, varies slightly due to currency exchange rates
Price Assembled: Approximately $350 USD (See Text)
Reviewer: Nels Ferré
Reviewed: September 2001
A few months back, I received an interesting e-mail from Hugh Dean, Technical Director for Printed Electronics, a small electronics firm located in Melbourne Australia. It seems that Mr. Dean and his business partner have decided to jump into the Hi Fi arena with a new amplifier kit and marketing scheme. Mr. Dean has spent many months designing a simple and very inexpensive amplifier circuit, which produces 55 watts of clean power into an 8 ohm load. It has been dubbed the ASKA (for Aspen Kit Set Amplifier.)
Thirty years ago, there was a good selection of solid state audio amplifiers available for the DIY enthusiast. Dynaco, Heath, and Hafler all marketed reasonably priced amplifier kits. Of course, Dynaco and Heath have resided in audio heaven for years, and Hafler hasn't marketed an amplifier kit in twenty. A shame really: those companies allowed many music lovers to enjoy high fidelity sound without breaking the budget. Usually, all that was required was a basic knowledge of components (say, the difference between a resistor and a capacitor,) the ability to solder, and the ability to read instructions (whose clarity could, and did, vary.)
Printed Electronics has come up with a novel approach to marketing the ASKA. For your $147 (delivered anywhere in the United States) you get the printed circuit boards for the output section of the completed power amplifier, as well as the individual components needed to fill the boards. The associated heat sink (which is quite robust, and like the rest of the kit, very high quality) is included. The Printed Electronics website lists prices delivered to other locales worldwide.
What you will need is a means of mounting the power supply components (available separately from Printed Electronics as a purpose built PCB, or from Radio Shack or Maplins in the U.K. as a universal breadboard.) Also needed are the components for the power supply, including a torodial transformer, input and output jacks, and some type of case to enclose the completed amplifier. Printed electronics now offers the PCB, ultrafast soft recovery power supply diodes, and the four filter capacitors as options for the kit. Also, a power switch of some sort (single pole/single throw) will be necessary, power indicator optional. Most of these items are available from Printed Electronics, and their website also has links to other recommended suppliers.
Speaking of transformers, the design can be built with either a single power supply, or a dual mono power supply, both of which are included in the single PCB option. Also needed are the associated power supply components, and two toroidial transformers. By my calculations, building the amplifier this way should cost no more than $350. All parts supplied by AKSA are of high quality, and assembly of the amplifier appears to be very straightforward.
One of the really cool things about this amplifier is the ability to build the amp to your own specs. If you believe that Wonder Caps, for example, are the best capacitors in the world, then by all means you may use them. Likewise, you can use whatever internal cabling you wish. I feel this is refreshing, allowing the user to "custom build" the amp to his or her needs. For those who do not wish to experiment, AKSA provides a list of recommended parts, which Printed Electronics have found to provide certain synergies.
As I previously mentioned, the AKSA can be built in either a single power supply version, where the power supply feeds both stereo channels, or a dual power supply version, where each channel is fed by its own dedicated power supply. I had the opportunity to hear both versions. I am glad I did.
With the single power supply, I feel that the amplifier is a good performer for the money. The fact that the amp sounded fine with the single power supply was promising, and I found myself thinking, "This is great that an amp like this can be had for so little money. This is a great deal for a cash strapped music lover." But then, I would get a yearning to hear a "better" amp. When I told Hugh Dean what I thought, he offered to send a dual power supply version. This is where things got really interesting.
When the second sample arrived, I was stunned. I had to remind myself that the amp was "only 55 watts", it sounded so open and dynamic. Bass was very deep and powerful, the midrange was smooth. The higher frequencies were possibly a bit recessed, but I don't see (hear) that as a problem. It is my opinion that much of the "audiophile" gear in the marketplace confuses brightness or even harshness in the treble range for "detail." The AKSA doesn't. The biggest indicator, in my opinion, of the quality of the dual power supply version is that I forgot about price and value and enjoyed the music. The "for the money" qualifier disappeared entirely: this is a great amp.
During the time I spent with the AKSA, I went through a major case of "upgradeitis", which allowed me to hear the AKSA with a variety of associated equipment. Readers who have followed my reviews over the last few years (yes it's been that "long" already) may recall my review of the Van Alstine Super PAS 3 preamp, which was upgraded to the Super PAS 4iSL shortly thereafter. While I do still feel that the "4" is technically a better preamp, I missed the warmth of tubes and bought an Audio Research SP-9 MKIII preamp. After living with this for a bit, I can hear why offerings by Audio Research have been coveted for nearly 31 years.
I had thought of purchasing a tubed Audio Research amp to mate to the SP-9, but finally decided on a McIntosh MC-162 solid state amp. The Mac replaced the AKSA amp. How did the AKSA fare in a direct comparison? Actually, the AKSA fared admirably, and bested the Mac in one area: bass performance. The bass is more direct and lively with the AKSA. While I do prefer the Mac, as it bests the AKSA in imaging and "air" around instruments, the bass response from the Mac can't keep up. As far as midrange and treble, the Mac is noticeably more "tube like" and laid back, and has proved itself to be an excellent match to the Audio Research. Please keep in mind the price differential: approximately $350 for the AKSA compared to $2200 for the McIntosh. Admirable indeed!
I also had occasion to audition the AKSA with a Harman/Kardon Citation 25 preamplifier. I found it very easy to discern the differences in the preamplifiers while auditioning the AKSA.
I preferred the AKSA to my former reference amp, a Harman/Kardon Citation 22. The Citation has been sold.
I would like to commend Hugh Dean for his contribution to the "high end" arena. The fact that such a good amp can be had for so little cash should endear the AKSA to many music lovers, with good reason.
Since completing the review, Hugh has informed me of several new products are in the pipeline. First is a new tubed line preamp, using an unusual frame grid tube, which Hugh believes adds even more vitality and emotion to the AKSA. Also nearing release is a speaker kit called the AKSonic, which is an 87db/watt/meter speaker, designed especially for the AKSA. It uses a novel "tweakable" construction with a variable box volume and port.
With innovative value priced offerings such as these, Printed Electronics deserve a place among the "great names" in hi fi. Very well done!
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